Navel Gazing – Part One: Old Media

Image: Katharina Matzkeit

For the first episode of my reflection upon my own media consumption habits, I have decided to focus on everything that can safely be called “old media” now, i.e. everything that existed before the Internet. I have decided to exclude forms of media where exposure is not really a matter of choice, like billboards.

I always feel a twinge of guilt whenever I say this, because I work for a TV station, but my television set has been a device to display DVDs almost exclusively for roundabout six years now. For about two years, I lived completely without any possibility to even receive a TV signal, then I bought a DVB-T receiver which I have used about a dozen times since, mostly to follow live events like elections, international football matches and the Oscars. Live TV, to me, is really the one thing where linear broadcasting can still shine, although I prefer to watch events like the football matches in the company of others, often in public places.

All this doesn’t mean I don’t like the content that’s on, although, of course, my profession predisposes me towards movies (I used to say that all the time I spend watching TV is time I am not spending watching movies). I could probably do without a lot of the daytime content, but who am I to judge. There is still a lot of excellent fictional and non-fictional content around, I just prefer to watch it when I choose. DVD box sets (currently: Mad Men, season 2) and the on-demand platforms of the broadcasters (there is still nothing like Hulu or Netflix in Germany) quench my thirst for TV programming, whenever it comes up.

I wake every morning by a radio alarm clock tuned, by some sort of personal default, to SWR1, the regional radio station I grew up with in my parents’ house. When I was still living alone, I used to leave the radio running while I got dressed and ready to leave the house and that was about all the radio exposure I got for the day. Now, it’s even less, although we sometimes have the radio on when we’re working in the kitchen. Most of the audio exposure I get these days comes from a number of podcasts I regularly listen to, but more on that in the next episode.

I could never get myself to read a newspaper since high school, when I would still share my parents’ regional one. As a college student, I tried subscriptions to almost every major daily or weekly newspaper in Germany and I immensely enjoyed reading every one of them. But the problem was always the same: I couldn’t get myself to throw the paper away while there were still interesting articles in there. And if I invested the time to actually read everything that interested me, I found that I had no time left for reading books. So rather than pay a bunch of money for something that I don’t actually use to its full extent, I decided to live without it and get my news elsewhere.

The average time spent reading a newspaper in Germany is 40 minutes. It makes me almost physically ill to think of the amount of quality content and the sheer mass of paper wasted every day on stuff that many people won’t even read. Better ways to distribute the content exist now. Newspapers, in the way they exist today, simply must become a thing of the past very soon.

The attention I cannot give to newspapers, I can devote to monthly magazines. I have subscriptions to the American edition of Wired and epd film. Last year, I also subcribed to Creative Screenwriting, but they ceased publication after two issues and kept the rest of my money. When my magazines arrive by mail, I usually read them cover to cover. They cater exactly to my interest, with a little bit of serendipity thrown in here and there. I keep back issues for a year before I throw them away. I don’t own a tablet yet, but once I do, I might change my Wired subscription to the tablet edition. I am not at all opposed to professionals distilling a selection of news and stories for me in a finite publication that is released at a fixed point in time, but my value-for-money lamp only lights up when I can safely say that most or all of the information contained in the publication actually interests me.

I still read books. Between 15 and 20 books per year, split almost evenly between nonfiction (mostly in some way related to my profession), literary classics and genre fiction I read for entertainment. I got an e-reader for Christmas which I haven’t used yet because I still had a lot of “real” books lying around that I wanted to finish first, but I reckon I will probably use it for most of my reading very soon. Having moved house three times in the last two years, I have learned to hate books, as much as I love them, for their sheer mass and weight. My prediction is that in two years, I will probably only buy the kind of coffee table books I love so much in physical form.

Until very recently, I really loved CDs. I have about 250 of them (which, I know, isn’t much for a real music lover but a lot more than most of my friends own) and I like to look at every one of them now and again. Seven years ago, however, I ripped my whole CD collection onto an external hard drive for my college year abroad. I never looked back. Now, whenever I buy a CD, I make myself listen to it once before I convert it to mp3, put it on the shelf, and only use it again when there’s no other possibility. I have really started buying digital downloads last year and it has become my medium of choice for obtaing music. I have a few favourite bands whose future releases I will probably still buy in years to come, just to have the complete collection on my shelf. But everything else is now on my MacBook.

Navel Gazing is a multi-part blog series about my personal media consumption habits, meant as a case study and a moment of self-reflection on account of Real Virtuality’s third birthday.